July 1, 2009

Rising Like the Phoenix

These past few weeks have derailed my training regimen. Family visiting, heading to Eugene for a weekend, getting sick with a stubborn cold that won't go away, and travelling to Los Angeles to visit family all pushed me further away from my goals. At the end of the week, I was absolutely desperate to elevate my heart rate and get my wobbly legs moving.

I woke up early in a suburban enviroment that had once been so familar, but was now completely foreign. The sky was bright and crystal clear. The Santa Ana winds blew gently, rustling up dead leaves and small puffs of dust. It was only 7:00 AM, but the oppressive sun was already making its presence known. Dry waves of heat reverberated from the black asphalt, creating a blurry mirage effect from several feet away. My throat was parched and my nose stuffy, but I was compelled to log some miles.

I dressed in my lightest layers, sensing the challenge ahead. I stocked the hydration belt with an extra bottle, and went for fresh, cold water instead of sugary sports drink. After six months of solid training, I cut a sleek form in my black Nike running capris and slim, fitted technical tee. My stepdad surveyed me as I ambled into the living room. "You look fetching," he observed. I couldn't help but smile, as this was me in my most natural state these days.

I had mapped out a loop in my head, which roughly equaled six miles out-and-back. Quiet side roads, hills, some trees for shade, lots of dry brush, very few cars, perhaps a few cyclists, and lizards. The absence of flying insects that sting was graciously welcomed.

I slid the iPod ear buds in. The music was my companion today, my motivation.

Work it, make it, do it, makes us smaller, better, faster, stronger...

I was pleased to see that a few slow weeks didn't completely eradicate my fitness. In fact, afer my "mini taper" I felt energized. Punchy, even. Ready to kick it up a notch.

Are ya hot mama? You sure look that way to me...

After only two miles, my face glowed bright red like the center of the sun. God, it was hot. Sweat and road grime rolled steadily down my face, legs, arms, and midsection.

Rescue me...should I go wrong...if I dig too deep...if I stay too long...

I plodded on. The run was a bit ambitious for me after a six-day hiatus, but I was determined to finish. I told myself that this was just a weekday training run, and six miles is nothing compared to the distance I've corvered. Are we at the halfway point yet? The heat was testing my resolve, stretching each torturous mile out longer and longer.

You got me begging you for mercy....why won't you release me?

After the turnaround, the worst part of my run loomed before me: an absolute wall of a hill. All those Tabor runs hadn't prepared me for this: running up a steep grade in 95 degree weather. I fought and wheezed through the pain, as the searing heat made my heart rate skyrocket. I pushed harder than ever, dug deeper.

Minimum...maximum...beats per minute...

My heart was pounding at 181 bpm. It's amazing how much harder running is when the relentless sun beats down on you, penetrating every muscle in your body. I finally crested the hill, and stomped down the descent. Short, quick steps, strike with the ball of your foot. When I reached flat road, my body had gotten used to the motion. My arms and legs moved like clockwork, my entire body swimming through an ocean of heat waves. I fell into the hypnotic rhythm and willed it to carry my home.

Whatever's in front of you, keep on keepin' on...

Just when I was ready to give up and slow to a walk, I turned a corner and knew the house was only a block away. I knew I would make it to the finish. I hit the final stop sign and sprinted up the street - anything to get this run over with and get out of what felt like a dry sauna. When I saw the house, I slowed to a walk and tried to bring my heart rate down carefully.

It was over. With one oppressively hot training run, I'd put myself back in the game. Like a phoenix from the ashes, I rose again to reclaim my training regimen. After all, July is almost upon us, and it's time for me to get really serious.

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